US Open: Brooks Koepka lays down marker for Bryson DeChambeau

Brooks Koepka is aiming to win his third US Open title

Two-time winner Brooks Koepka lay down a marker for defending champion Bryson DeChambeau as he finished two behind Russell Henley’s clubhouse lead in the US Open first round at Torrey Pines.

England’s Matt Fitzpatrick and Tyrrell Hatton ended the day on one under, with American Henley three shots ahead.

Grand Slam-chasing Phil Mickelson’s slow start saw him finish on four over.

Mickelson, 51, became the oldest major winner when he won his second US PGA Championship in May and is once again seeking to add the US Open title to his collection, having finished as runner-up six times.

Italian Francesco Molinari and Spain’s Rafa Cabrera Bello lead European hopes on three under par.

The start of play was delayed by 90 minutes with fog settled on the San Diego cliff-top course, but as the skies cleared the conditions were favourable for early starters.

Those who begin later have stronger winds to contend with and may not be able to complete their round before the light is lost.

Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Lee Westwood and world number one Dustin Johnson are among the late starters.

Koepka takes control

The spat between Koepka and DeChambeau seemed to reach its zenith in recent weeks when the former posted a social media video offering free beer to fans who were ejected from an event for heckling the latter.

DeChambeau’s tactic of overpowering a typically tricky US Open course worked when he took the title in 2020 and he has promised to “bomb and gouge” his way round Torrey Pines.

Koepka seemed to have control of the course after starting his round on the 10th hole and took the solo lead with his fourth birdie of the day on the second – his 11th hole.

But the two-time PGA Championship winner unravelled somewhat with bogeys on the third and seventh, before finishing off with two pars to card a two-under 69.

Mickelson started more sluggishly and struggled to find the fairway, bogeying three of his first six holes, and a birdie on his eighth hole did little to fix the damage with two more bogeys before he was home.

Should the left-hander turn things around, he will be only the sixth man to have won all four of the men’s majors and his win in May has given fans reason to hope as he contests his 30th US Open.

American Henley’s day substantially improved after his opening bogey, with back-to-back birdies on the seventh and eighth with a bogey on the 12th the only blight on a back nine in which he claimed three birdies.

The 32-year-old’s best in seven previous US Open appearances was tied 16th in 2010.

San Diego native Xander Schauffele, who has finished no lower than sixth in his previous four US Opens, completed the American contingent towards the top of the leaderboard, carding a 69.

Europeans make their mark

Francesco Molinari smiles
Francesco Molinari has been reunited with his brother Edoardo for the first time in 18 months at the US Open

In a tournament historically dominated by Americans, several Europeans made promising starts.

Francesco Molinari – the 2018 Open champion – made a late charge with birdies on the 16th and 18th, while brother Edoardo made it round in a one-under-par 70.

The round was made more special by the fact the Molinaris had this week been reunited for the first time in 18 months, having been separated because of travel restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“We text and we talk pretty often,” Francesco said. “But obviously it’s not the same, especially after such a long time. It’s definitely the first time that we’ve been apart for so long, so nice to see him.”

Spaniard Rafa Cabrera Bello’s round sprung to life with an eagle on his ninth hole and he carded a 68.

Fitzpatrick may be frustrated to have ended his round on a bogey but the 26-year-old’s round of 70 puts him in contention.

Compatriot Hatton also ended his day tied for seventh after a mixed bag of four birdies and three bogeys saw him finish in the red.

After claiming an emotional first European Tour win at his 71st attempt earlier in June, England’s Marcus Armitage brought his good form to Torrey Pines.

The 33-year-old finished the first day of his US Open debut on level par after a birdie and bogey on each half of the course.

“The [European Tour] win gives you confidence but straight away you dismiss it and think ‘let’s see if I can perform at Major level now’,” Armitage said.

Tommy Fleetwood enjoyed three birdies on the front nine, but blundered after the turn and a double bogey on his 14th hole contributed to a one-over-par 72.

Ireland’s Shane Lowry went one better with a triple bogey on the fourth hole but the 2019 Open winner fought back to finish alongside Fleetwood on one over.